Mouth That Roars

Bill Liblick has made a name for himself of National TV Talk Shows where he spouted his outspoken views from the front row. Now he offers you his opinion every week in the "MOUTH THAT ROARS" Column in the Sullivan County Post.

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September 22nd, 2011

Legislature Must Approve Full Disclosure

Upon taking office Governor Andrew Cuomo made certain historic ethics reforms were swiftly passed into law. State lawmakers are now required to disclose things they ordinarily would not want the public to know.

In Sullivan County the road to ethics reform has been bumpy.

Legislature Chairman Jonathan Rouis last week appointed several esteemed people to his new ethics commission to review and recommend changes to our ethics laws.

This was the direct result of an unbelievable spin from legislators Jodi Goodman and Leni Binder who pretended to be oblivious when they were accused by irate taxpayers with accepting free tickets to Bethel Woods from their friend and businessman Stuart Salenger who had votes before the legislature.

Despite the fact they have been in office for well over a decade, and the law clearly states they cannot accept gifts worth more than $75 and they must disclose them, Goodman and Binder claimed they needed ethics rules further defined, so Rouis obliged.

In reality, friends sit with friends at Bethel Woods, but then again, former Governor David Paterson was fined $62,000 for accepting tickets to a Yankees game.

Sullivan County activist Dave Colavito has now embarked on a grassroots effort for full disclosure. He wants all legislators to disclose whom they do business with before this year’s elections.

Obviously there is a fine line one crosses when mixing business, pleasure, and governmental relationships. We are a small county and many people have friendships and business connections that intertwine. This does not mean legislators are intentionally doing anything unethical or wrong.

Nonetheless, Colavito maintains “money affects behavior, and we should be permitted to determine, for ourselves, whether inappropriate conflicts of interests are influencing county decisions.”

Colavito claims the County’s Code of Ethics already provides for much of the structure needed to implement and enforce the “Client Disclosure” resolution. “So the notion that they can’t vote on it until “after” the election strains credibility. We deserve to know where the county legislature stands on this issue, and we deserve to know before the election.”

Legislator David Sager who was elected on a platform of reform pushed a resolution through the legislature in 2008 to completely update and provide teeth to our ethics laws. Sager told me, “Sadly, we are in the waning part of 2011 and I have yet to see this policy enactment come to fruition. At times it has seemed like my efforts in government were an exercise in futility.”

Sager, who is not seeking reelection because of family reasons, said Colavito made some “salient” points at last Thursday’s Executive Committee meeting. “The first was that money affects behavior. The second and equally important was that we have a choice as elected officials either to truly serve the people or not.”

“What Mr. Colavito resonates is that open government requires complete transparency and if our elected and appointed officials do not want to provide such transparency to those they serve, then perhaps they should exit the public arena and we can get people in office who truly want to do the public will.”

Sager concluded, “I can say unequivocally that there is still far too much inside-dealing and influence pedaling by select individuals and groups, so much so that someone like me has questioned whether meaningful change is even possible. That does not mean that we stop trying.”

And, try we must.

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